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Banner: Moving Here, Staying Here. The Canadian Immigrant Experience

The Documentary TrailTraces of the PastFind an Immigrant
Free From Local Prejudice
A National Open-Door Policy
Filling the Promised Land
A Preferred Policy
A Depressing Period

A Temporary Line

by Geoffrey Ewen, Glendon College, York University

Itinerant workers, who travelled from job to job and from place to place, were essential to a large number of labour-intensive industries in Canada. They took seasonal employment in workplaces as diverse as salmon canneries on the West coast, farms throughout the country, and logging camps. Temporary employment, in building and railway construction for instance, required thousands of labourers and skilled workers. The need for itinerant labour was ever-present, even if it was uneven, requiring larger numbers for some projects and available during certain seasons. What these workers shared was their mobility; they seized opportunities to work for a period of weeks, months or even years before moving onto a new place and a new job.

A diverse group, their workplaces were often multi-ethnic and multiracial, even if workers of some national origins tended to concentrate in some industries, or are remembered today for their contribution to particular construction projects. Some itinerant workers, whether from the United States, Asia, continental Europe or Great Britain, came as immigrants, intending to stay for good, while others were sojourners who planned to work in Canada only for a time before returning to their native land. They could operate within local labour markets, making short trips from nearby homes, or they could make long-distance journeys that were transnational and transcontinental, from China or Italy for instance. Temporary labourers also included Canadian-born migrants and Aboriginal workers, the latter of whom proved vital to the industrialization of British Columbia, as historian John Lutz has shown.

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